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"Happiness" on O'Connor's First NHL Goal

Former University of Denver Pioneer helps Avalanche defeat Oilers

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

A tight game between two high-powered offenses was broken open by the Colorado Avalanche's three-goal run in a matter of 2:32 early in the third period.

However, the loudest cheer from the Pepsi Center crowd in that time might have come on the last tally when Logan O'Connor scored on a backhand shot for his first career NHL goal.

"That was pretty cool," O'Connor said of hearing the fans' reaction after his goal was announced as his first in the NHL. "I was sort of trying to keep my composure on the bench there because there was still 10 (plus) minutes left, but that was a great feeling just to have the crowd get on their feet a little bit and make a little noise."

The rookie's marker on Wednesday night was the icing on a 4-1 victory for the Avalanche against the Edmonton Oilers and served as a little redemption after the team fell 6-2 at Rogers Place 13 days earlier. It was a rematch of high-octane attacks as Edmonton entered with the fourth-most goals in the league with 83, while the Avs were close behind at 81.

Colorado's ability to produce was demonstrated with four unanswered goals after it trailed 1-0 at the first intermission.

Following Nazem Kadri's tying maker midway through the second period, Matt Nieto gave the Avs their first lead of night when he buried a feed from Nathan MacKinnon on a 2-on-1 rush at 3:05 of the third stanza. MacKinnon got a goal of his own 1:02 seconds later, and O'Connor completed the scoring 90 seconds after that.

Video: EDM@COL: O'Connor lifts backhanded shot past Koskinen

"I think they just couldn't handle our speed," O'Connor said of the second half of the contest. "They lost a couple D-men earlier in the game, so they were playing a little shorthanded and I think we kept getting the puck deep and being relentless on them, creating turnovers. I think they got pretty tired going to get pucks back there."

O'Connor's goal came after Valeri Nichushkin stole the puck behind the goal line and passed it to the front of the net where the University of Denver alum was waiting. O'Connor then corralled the rubber piece and flicked a backhander that went off the top corner iron before finding twine.

"Val made a nice play there and I sort of swung at it and got lucky there," O'Connor said. "You need some luck sometimes.

"That is a great feeling. That is something you sort of dream of your whole life, so to have that happen and to get the win on top of that is definitely nice."

O'Connor is in his second year in the Avalanche organization after signing with the club as an undrafted college free agent following his junior campaign at DU. Named team captain weeks before Colorado came calling, O'Connor has called the decision to turn pro one of the toughest of his life. So far its paid off.

On Wednesday, he was playing in his fourth game of the season for the Avalanche and the ninth of his NHL career after making his debut on Dec. 31, 2018 against the Los Angeles Kings. He has been called up twice from the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles this year, with his most recent stint beginning on Nov. 18.

Before the call-up, he appeared in 14 contests with the Eagles and produced three goals and five assists. In his first professional campaign in 2018-19, the forward registered 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) with Colorado's AHL affiliate.

O'Connor can now rest a little easier knowing he's picked up a point in the best league in the world.

"I try not to be a point-oriented player, but it is definitely nice to get that one off the board there," O'Connor said. "It is sort of a monkey on your back until you get your first one. Now I can just sort of focus on playing and playing my role."

Video: Logan O'Connor on scoring his first NHL goal

Born in Missouri City, Texas, while his father Myles--an ex-NHLer himself--was playing for the Houston Aeros, O'Connor grew up in Calgary and often watched the "Battle of Alberta" between the Flames and Oilers.

He said scoring against Edmonton, his hometown team's rival, did add a tiny bit extra to the moment.

"Yeah it is a little sweet," O'Connor said. "Growing up seeing the Flames play Edmonton, it's a big rival. It's nice to get it against the Oilers I guess."

After the game, O'Connor was asked to describe the emotions he felt on the ice when the puck went into the back of the net. He said it was tough to explain, but "it was just happiness." It's fair to say there was more elation and excitement to come when he was able to check his phone and talk with his mom and dad.

"I'm going to give my parents a shout after the game," he said. "They're definitely watching back in Calgary. It was nice to get that one tonight and in front of a good crowd and a big win for us."

ROSEN DEBUTS

Defenseman Calle Rosen played his first game as a member of the Avalanche and also picked up his first point with the club on an assist on Kadri's goal.

Acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1 that also included Kadri, Rosen was playing in his ninth career NHL game after being recalled from the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

He saw 15:43 of ice and had two shots on goal and six shot attempts.

"I liked Rosen. I thought he got back to pucks hard, he skated on the first touch so he had some clean breakouts on his own using his legs," said head coach Jared Bednar. "From history here, it is one of the strengths of his game. He moved the puck pretty well. He had a couple moments where it was a little shaky, but I thought he got better as the game went on."

ADD ANOTHER INJURY

Andre Burakovsky did not play in the third period due to an upper-body injury, and head coach Jared Bednar didn't have much information on the forward's status after the contest.

It is the second straight outing where Colorado has lost a player after Erik Johnson suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday versus Toronto. Bednar said on Wednesday morning Johnson will miss a "handful of games."

"We're having a tough time getting through a game without losing a guy for a month now. But hopefully we got some light coming at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully Burky is not out too long," Bednar said following the contest.

Video: Avs head coach Jared Bednar after the win vs. Oilers

That light is Mikko Rantanen, who has missed the last 15 games with a lower-body injury but is expected to play on Saturday when the Avs host the Chicago Blackhawks. Also, captain Gabriel Landeskog is improving from his lower-body injury and skated for the second straight day on Wednesday.

Matt Calvert (head) and Colin Wilson (lower body) are also on the team's injured list and slowing progressing. Colorado entered the outing with 62 man-games lost this year.

SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS

The Avalanche fired a season-high 50 shots on the Oilers, its most since it had 51 on April 4, 2017 versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

Colorado outshot Edmonton every period and held a 36-7 advantage in the final 40 minutes of play.

The Oilers were held to just two shots on goal in the third period, the fewest the Avs have allowed (not including overtime) since April 2, 2017 at the Minnesota Wild (third period).

MORE NOTES

The Avalanche is now 7-3-1 at home this season. Colorado is 13-3-1 in its last 17 regular-season home games. Including last years playoffs, the Avs have gone 17-4-1 in their last 22 total outings at Pepsi Center.

The Avs have scored four or more goals in six of their 11 home games this season. Their 3.82 goals-per-game average at Pepsi Center is tied for fourth (Florida) in the league in goals-per-game average on home ice.

Colorado finished 64.6 percent on faceoffs, its best faceoff win percentage in a game this season and best since April 4, 2017 vs. Chicago (64.7 percent).

Nathan MacKinnon finished with two points (goal, assist) and now has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 12 contests this month. MacKinnon has tallied 105 points (39 goals, 66 assists) in 92 career games in November, with his highest total coming in 2018-19 when he produced 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists). Since the 2017-18 season, MacKinnon has tallied 61 points (22g, 39a) in 38 November outings, the most points by any player and the highest points-per-game average (1.61) over that span.

MacKinnon finished with 10 shots to bring his season total to 120, which ranks second in the NHL to Washington's Alex Ovechkin (124).

Matt Nieto registered his fifth goal of the season, surpassing his season total from the 2018-19 regular season.

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